Monday, November 5, 2012

The Fallout from Writing Edgy

At Amazon
My guest this week is Polly Iyer, author of the new suspense-thriller, Goddess of the Moon, featuring psychic Diana Racine.
A lot has been said lately about reviews. Who’s writing them? Who’s trading them? How honest are they? Let’s put aside that writers have writer friends, and for the most part, we support each other. There’s nothing wrong with that; we are a supportive group. Are we more generous when reviewing our friends? If I’m being honest, I’d say yes. Rarely will a writer with any ethics flip off a one-star review, because we know how hard it is to write a book. A writer’s subject matter and how she portrays her characters have consequences when it comes to the judgment of her readers, and in turn their reviews. How offended is a reader when the storyline conflicts with their respective beliefs or when a character does something they find personally reprehensible?
My books have darker subject matters and characters who often cross ethical lines. Romances take the hardest hits. Readers become invested in the relationship between the hero and heroine, and they want the story to turn out the way they want. If it doesn’t, watch out. Mysteries and thrillers have a little more leeway, but here again, there are limits.
At Amazon
HOOKED has received a slew of two-star reviews, mostly on Goodreads, where people can drop a one or two star bomb without explanation. (No, Polly, you can’t please everyone.) Tawny Dell, the heroine, is a high-class call girl who decides she wants out. Does she ever apologize for choosing that lifestyle? No. She’s smart, with a PhD in art history—come on, this is fiction after all—and she doesn’t consider herself a victim because she never was. There was no kumbaya moment where she regrets her former profession, no epiphany where she “sees the light.” There’s a graphic prison scene in MURDER DÉJÀ VU that’s not for the feint of heart. I could have implied it, but I described it instead because it was important to the character of my hero. One of my characters—I won’t mention which book—murders someone in cold blood. I made it look a little like self-defense, but he would have done the dirty whether or not I fudged the scene, and the reader knows that. In MIND GAMES, the first in the Diana Racine Psychic Suspense series, Diana admits to being a fraud. She is and she isn’t. Does that make her unethical? Well, yeah. The way she’s devised her act definitely puts her in the questionable column. I had written the N word in that book, more than once. A critique partner flashed red flags all over the place, and I took them out, except for a less offensive variation, if there is such a thing. Diana’s father is a racist, and it’s a word he’d use. I got around it. The reader knows what he’s going to say it before she stops him. This one time, I gave in to political correctness, and I hated that I did. I didn’t feel true to myself or the story. In my newest book, GODDESS OF THE MOON, there’s a whole bunch of possible reader turn-offs, and I’m waiting for the reactions from my first readers.
So back to my original question―Do you try not to alienate readers by tweaking a book to make it more acceptable, or do you write the story the way you know in your heart it has to be, pitfalls included? If you write edgy storylines, are you ready for the fallout―those one and two star reviews that zap your confidence just a little? If you do, relax. You’ll get used to them.
Then, of course, there’s always the possibility that a reader thinks your book just sucks. There’ll be a few of those too.

ABOUT POLLY IYER
Polly Iyer was born on the coast of Massachusetts. After studying at Massachusetts College of Art and Design in Boston, she lived in Italy, Atlanta, and now resides in the beautiful Piedmont region of South Carolina in an empty nest house with her husband and a drooling mutt named Max. Writing novels turned into her passion after careers in fashion, art, and business. Now she spends her time being quite the hermit in comfortable clothes she wouldn't be caught dead wearing on the outside, while she devises ways for life to be complicated for her characters. Better them than her.
Read more about Polly and her books at http://PollyIyer.com

28 comments:

Steve Liskow said...

Some readers have told me they choose books to get away from reality, at which point I tell them they won't like my stuff because I don't include recipes or child care (although lots of my characters share my liking for cats). I suspect that these readers feel misled when they find themselves in a book with darker themes and find it easier to lash out at the writer than to admit they were careless about buying the book.


My first self-pubbed novel included a graphic rape scene from the POV of the victim. One agent turned the book down because of that scene. The book has three reviews on Amazon, and one specifically mentions taking a star off the review because of that scene, but most readers I've talked to agree that the scene was appropriate and necessary to the book.

One of my other novels is about teen trafficking and while it seems to be selling, I only have one review on Amazon. I'm not sure it the subject matter is the issue or not.

Yet another book is about a shooting in an urban high school. Again, the book seems to be selling moderately, but I don't have a single review posted.

In short, I write what I'm comfortable writing. My covers and cover copy should make it clear to someone with kinder gentler tastes that they should stay away.

Polly Iyer said...

I agree with everything you said, Steve. I had a similar experience with I Murder Deja Vu being rejected because of that prison scene, although the reader for the publisher said the book was both well-written and well-paced. Readers have an opportunity to read 4 or 5 chapters of a book with Amazon's Look Inside feature. Why they get to chapter two and say the book isn't for them is a conundrum. They could save both themselves and the writer a good deal of trouble.

Linda Lovely said...

Polly, I'm an eclectic reader. I like to read all types of books. I enjoy dark and edgy just as I'm sometimes in the mood for pure fluff. I'm not bothered by graphic scenes essential to a plot. I'm only put off by novels where I can't identify/empathize at all with the heroes/heroines and/or the message is unrelentingly depressing, e.g. all humanity sucks. That certainly isn't the case with your books. Tawny, for example, has a great sense of humor as well as concern for her "colleagues." Still I won't give one or two star reviews to a well-written book that's not my cup of tea. I just don't rate those.

Ellis Vidler said...

I agree with Linda. I read many different things, and if the characters engage me and the story is good, I can accept most things as long as I think they are important to the story.
I admit to getting queasy if I think an animal is going to be hurt, but I can skim those scenes and go on.
Amazon offers samples and a significant chunk with Look Inside. Don't blame the author if you don't know what you're getting. If I can't say anything nice, I don't review.
Good post and comments!

Polly Iyer said...

Thanks, Ellis and Linda. I try to put myself in my characters' places and decide what I'd do. Maybe I have a bit of a twist in my character to make me write them the way I do, but goody-goodies have always rather bored me. I like characters who stray off the straight and narrow path. I'm drawn to them not only in the characters I create but to those in the books I read. Therein lies the problem, or not!

Grapeshot/Odette said...

When I started writing, I wracked my brain to think of a conflict for my main character that hadn't already been done to death. (pun intended). Drugs, booze, sympathetic serial killers--all those "vices" were cliches by now. I thought maybe an adulteress would be interesting, and I wrote three novels with my protag agonizing over the husband/boyfriend issue, in kind of a French bedroom farce lighthearted way. This was woven so tightly into the plot that no rewrite could "fix" it.
My writing group appeared to like the books, but only one novel ever found publication, a tiny Internet publisher who went belly up. Later on, someone told me, "No one could ever get a series character with an "A" on her chest published in the U.S. Well, dumb me! I'll put the two novels on Createspace in 2013, sadder but wiser.

Marilyn Levinson said...

Excellent topic, Ellis. Enough information is given to the reader in the flap blurb to indicate whether or not a book is edgy or not. You're so right--not everyone's going to love our work. Still, there's always a part of us that wishes everyone would.

Susan M. Boyer said...

I'm with Linda--I'm an eclectic reader. I confess I'm horribly behind on my reading, as I'm learning to juggle everything online plus in-person appearances (and the planning and scheduling thereof) with writing. Wow. How do y'all do it?

Anyway, I'm very intrigued by Tawny and her story. She's in my TBR list, and I'm looking forward to the read. It doesn't bother me that she doesn't have an epiphany where she tears her hair out that she was once a call girl.

jenny milchman said...

I think you said it in a word (or 3), Polly: Follow your heart.

Your heroine does.

Polly Iyer said...

Odette, my agent at the time loved HOOKED, but one publisher she submitted the book to thought it was sexist. We didn't understand why; there's nothing sexist about it. I tried not to glorify the profession, and I don't think I did. It does come down to how different people perceive the same book. My suggestion is if you like what you wrote, publish it yourself. My Amazon reviews validate for the most part that I did the right thing--for me.

Polly Iyer said...

No, Marilyn, we aren't going to please everyone. That's for sure. But we must please ourselves both in the content of our stories and the integrity of our characters.

Polly Iyer said...

Susan, I don't know how you and the other writers do what you do. I made a commitment to myself not to do signings or go to conferences. I will succeed or fail with my work online and mostly with ebooks. So far it's working out fine. I wish you all the best. You're doing great.

Polly Iyer said...

Jenny, I've watched how you've created your platform, and I'm in awe. There's no doubt in my mind that you'll be successful when your book hits the market. We all create our own paths. Success to you.

Gloria Alden said...

I'm an eclectic reader, but I don't write edgy or dark books so my first book probably won't offend anyone when it's self- published soon. That's not why I write them, it's because for the most part I prefer traditional light mysteries. How it's rated I'm not going to worry about. I write what I love and I'm sure there will be some that like my series and just as sure others won't.

E. B. Davis said...

Sounds as though you wrote a tough scene that others shy away from writing. I didn't realize this until I wrote a graphic murder scene for a short that will be published, and the editor complemented me for doing so. Perhaps that's why some authors write cozies--so they don't have to write tough scenes, but if that is what the story necessitates you can't shy away from it. Congratulations for taking it on and doing it right.

Unknown said...

I LOVE LOVE LOVE Polly Iyer's books... Read Murder deja Vu (really really good), Hooked (laughed so much I peed my pants) and I will read the rest of 'em soon's I can get to them all. Love the new cover for Moon Goddess!

Polly Iyer said...

Gloria, I think it's important to write what you love. Your book/s will be much better in the end. I can't think of anything worse than to write what someone else wants you to write. Best of luck with your book.

Polly Iyer said...

Thanks, E.B. Graphic murders and graphic sex are both hard to write, and I do believe that's why many authors write lighter fare. I always try to write a bit of humor to break up the dark side, but that depends on my characters. They tell me what to write. Thanks for dropping by.

Polly Iyer said...

Unknown, I don't know who you are, but I think you're my new favorite person. Thanks so much for the compliments. I hope you get to the rest of them. Mind Games will be free Nov 9-13. Enjoy.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

It's clear to me as a writer that I can't please everyone. Writers need to be true their own vision. I've taken hits from reviewers and an occasional reader, but it hasn't deterred me and it won't.

Polly Iyer said...

I agree, Jacqueline. We have to write what we write, and we have to please ourselves first. I think it's harder for indie writers because we start out with many people thinking whatever we write couldn't be any good. I have a lot of reviews that say they were surprised the book they read was good. Keep writing.

Morgan Mandel said...

I must confess to wanting my heroines to uphold what my own values are. Still, if an author does a story right, the reader can accept someone who's far different than the norm.

Nice profile pic, by the way!'

Morgan Mandel
http://www.morganmandel.com

Polly Iyer said...

Thanks for commenting, Morgan. I try to put the story first and not confuse my heroines with me or the way I'd do things. I always make my heroines much younger, prettier, and intellectually smarter, if not always smart in life choices. That gives me more opportunity to write an interesting story and probably offend someone in the process. :-)

VR Barkowski said...

I've never tweaked a book to make it more accessible to readers, although I've done major tweakage to please critiquers. My first two manuscripts were both products of "expert" feedback. As a result, neither ended up close to the story I wanted to tell. I've vowed to keep the premise of my third manuscript to myself until it's through first round edits - not even my husband or agent knows. I write dark. I know there are folks out there who have zero interest in cozies and/or light romantic suspense because I'm one of them. There was a time I wouldn't have been so blunt, but after five years of being brutalized by both romance and trad mystery writers because I don't "write to genre," honesty comes pretty easy.

Polly Iyer said...

I'm one of them too, Viva. I've had someone tell me they couldn't critique with me because of the darkness in my books. She went on to publish a few cozies. Does "writing to genre" mean you must stick to a formula? If so, I think that's why so many books I read seem like I've read them before. I know what's going to happen, so why read them? I have no doubt I'll be reading your books in the near future. Stay true to yourself. We all should, no matter what we write.

Polly Iyer said...

Thanks for having me, Ellis. It was great fun.

Grapeshot/Odette said...

The news this week about the FBI/CIA adultery brouhaha certainly emphasizes that nearly everyone is or has the capacity to become a very flawed character in his/her own life. Is anyone but me obsessed by this scandal?

Polly Iyer said...

I am not, Odette. These scandals have been going on longer than I've been alive, and this one won't be the last. I just think it's sad that a man once more thought with his little head instead of his big one and ruined his name in the process.